By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite living in the world’s richest economy with a gross domestic product of $15.7 trillion, America’s children, especially minorities, live in poverty at alarming rates, according to a new study.
The study titled, “State of America’s Children 2014,” is a wide-ranging annual report on by the Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy group that works to ensure a level playing field for all children at federal, state and community levels across the country.
The report tracks the well-being of children living in the United States analyzing data on child population, poverty, family structure and income, housing and homelessness, child nutrition and hunger, early childhood, education, child welfare, juvenile justice and gun violence.
“The greatest threat to America’s economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young,” wrote Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, in the foreword to the report.
In 2012, there were 73.7 million children living in the United States and 13.9 percent or 10.2 million of them were Black and 52.8 percent or 38.9 million were White. For the first time a majority of children under 2-years old were minorities and by 2019 children of color will make up the majority.
Today, children of color already account for the majority of all children in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas and the District of Columbia.
At least 50 percent of Black children living in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin were poor and “nearly half the states had Black child poverty rates of 40 percent or more,” stated the report. “Black and Hispanic households with children were more than twice as likely as White households to lack access to adequate food in 2012.”
In 2012, 20 percent of Black children lived in extreme poverty compared to less than 6 percent of White children who lived in extreme poverty.
“It is just shocking how bad things are for many of the children in our country,” said Caroline Fichtenberg, research director for the Children’s Defense Fund. “We need to be focusing on all children and particularly children of color as they are our country’s future.”
Programs that serve young children have taken a disproportionate hit in recent years, due to a downturn in the economy and partisan bickering among Washington lawmakers.
“From 2011 to 2012 total federal spending on children decreased 7 percent, and spending on early childhood programs decreased by 12 percent. The sequestration budget cuts eliminated more than 57,000 children from Head Start and Early Head Start in 2013,” stated the report.
According to the report, every 2.5 minutes a Black child is born into poverty and every 4.5 minutes a Black child is born into extreme poverty. Every two minutes a White child is born into poverty and every 4 minutes a White child is born into extreme poverty.
Even though the Black-White poverty gap fell 26 percent between 1964 and 2012, Black children were three times more likely to be poor than White children.
The CDF report found that nearly 9 million children were lifted out of poverty by the safety net and tax credits in 2012, but much more is needed according to child advocates.
The cost of doing less or nothing at all to address the myriad issues that face minority children is crippling the United States.
“Child poverty costs the nation at least $500 billion each year in extra education, health and criminal justice costs and in lost productivity,” stated the report.
The CDF report also found that racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. an estimated $1.24 trillion in medical costs and lost productivity between 2003 and 2006.
Every seven hours a Black child or teenager loses their life as a victim of gun violence, compared to every 10 hours a White child is killed by a gun, according to the CDF report.
“Gun deaths and injuries cost the U.S. $174.1 billion each year, or 1.15 percent of our total gross domestic product (GDP),” stated the report.
The infant mortality gap between Blacks and Whites increased by 14 percent and the child and teen gun deaths gap increased by 111 percent between 1964 and 2012.
Fichtenberg said that until we address disparities in educational outcomes and opportunities, job opportunities and early childhood development learning opportunities in this country by race we’re going to continue to see these kinds of disparities.
“This is exactly why the Children’s Defense Fund is calling for another ‘War on Childhood Poverty’,” said Fichtenberg. “People need to be calling their representatives and demanding this and calling their local elected officials and demanding this. It is what every other wealthy nation does for its children and we as the leader of industrialized nations should be doing that for our children.”
Fichtenberg said that there is a strong bipartisan consensus that early childhood investments are cost-effective and important for the country.
“The challenge is always how we pay for it and that’s where you’ll see disagreements,” said Fichtenberg.
Some child advocates believe that the additional money for early childhood investments should come from cutting corporate tax breaks.
The CDF study reported that for the value of three days of corporate tax breaks, the United States could provide one year of food stamp benefits feeding 737,000 children who don’t have enough eat.
The report continued: “The amount the U.S. spends a year on corporate tax breaks for private jets would pay the salary of 6,400 high school teachers.”
According to the report, the cost of one F-35 fighter jet could cover Head Start for 17,500 low-income children for a year and “all poor infants and toddlers could have been served by Early Head Start if the government diverted just 18 days of defense spending.”
Edelman called on President Obama and America’s political leaders in every party at every level to finish the task President Johnson and Dr. King began to eliminate child poverty.
“To those who claim our nation cannot afford to prevent our children from going hungry and homeless and prepare all our children for school, I say we cannot afford not to,” Edelman wrote. “If the foundation of your house is crumbling you must fix it. Education is a lot cheaper than ignorance.”